NEW ORLEANS — Even before the suspensions of six players last week, Ohio State was going to be faced with questions about its 0-9 bowl record against the SEC when it arrived in New Orleans. Now, the Buckeyes will attempt to diffuse the controversy surrounding Tattoo-gate in addition to their winless streak against the SEC.
The streak has taken on a life of its own, mainly because of OSU’s recent national title game debacles against Florida and LSU. Senior defensive back Jermale Hines said the Buckeyes’ struggles against the SEC stay with them no matter how much they would like to forget about their past.
“It’s always something in the back of our minds because it’s real,” Hines said. “The last couple outings we got destroyed by SEC teams.”
Offensive guard Bryant Browning takes a different approach when it comes to the streak: ignorance.
“I really haven’t watched too much of that kind of stuff” in the media, Browning said. “You can’t really worry about what people say. We’ve got to focus on ourselves.”
Tonight OSU will face off against Arkansas in the 77th Allstate Sugar Bowl, nearly 32 years to the day that the Buckeyes were handed their first bowl game defeat at the hands of an SEC team. On Jan. 2, 1978, Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide destroyed the Woody Hayes-led Scarlet and Gray, 35-6.
The players, including Browning, have echoed the sentiments of OSU coach Jim Tressel, who has implored them to remain focused on the task at hand.
“We know if we go in and play any team in the nation and we play our best game, then we’ll come out on top,” Browning said. “We’re just working hard to try to do whatever it takes so that when Jan. 4 comes around we’re at our best.”
That may be easier said than done against an Arkansas passing offense ranked third in the nation. Junior quarterback Ryan Mallett has led the Razorback attack, throwing for 30 touchdowns and 3,500 yards in back-to-back years.
Although the Arkansas offense will be pass-heavy, it can also run the ball effectively with sophomore running back Knile Davis. When OSU faced Florida in 2007 and LSU in 2008, it went up against balanced offenses and gave up a combined 79 points.
The winless streak against the SEC may be very real, but at least one OSU player doesn’t believe in the “SEC speed” theory, which fans and pundits alike claim gives the SEC the ultimate advantage on the playing field.
“As far as the speed thing goes, I never have thought that that was the difference-maker,” said senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. “People don’t just get slower when they come to the Big Ten.”
Senior kicker Devin Barclay is looking forward to the opportunity to disprove the doubters, and reminds everyone that OSU is playing Arkansas, not the ghosts of SEC past.
“We’ve really got to focus in on doing our thing. Obviously the games in 2006 and 2007 … we remember those games — they sting still, and they were against SEC teams. (But) they weren’t against Arkansas,” Barclay said. “There’s always been the press saying that we can’t compete against these SEC teams. It’s going to feel good to prove them wrong.”